Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Open: A proposal for community standards of forum behavior

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Dot
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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Dot » Thu Mar 25, 2010 6:29 am

Marten has written a thoughtful post in that particular thread: http://mystonline.com/forums/viewtopic. ... 239#331239

The post is more to do with understanding community and individuals than moderation, but I found it helpful.

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Mac_Fife » Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:58 am

I'll try to give my thoughts in a sort of ordered way...

Important Info
I think one question you have to ask is, once something develops into a useful resource that the community depends upon then is a forum the correct place to hold that information? There are a few factors here, and a lot will depend on the site in question, so it's maybe useful to compare and contrast the MOUL site with OpenURU.org.
Important topics on forums usually end up being "stickied" so they appear at the top of the front page (although I have used one forum that had so many stickied threads that you needed to go the second page to find an unstickied one :roll: ). On the MOUL site, once a mod edits a post it can no longer be edited by its original author, and making the post sticky counts as an edit. That is a serious nuisance. I suspect that's really a limitation of phpBB2: I'm not sure whether the same limitation exists in phpBB3 - I've not had the opportunity to test that out.
Unstickied threads with important information will tend to stay near the top of the topic list if they still attract regular posts, like the "KI List" thread does for example. But often a thread listing something like external resources will only get updates for a limited period of time after it is created. As the new posts of suggested additions dry up then the thread slides off the front page. Editing existing posts won't "bump" the thread (although phpBB3 gives some user classes a "bump this topic" option).
The MOUL site is a basically a forum supported by a few website pages. That means that the forum is really the only way that users can contribute any content. It's Cyan's website, not a fansite so that's quite understandable and I don't mean it as a criticism. On OpenURU.org we've tried to provide a number of resources in addition to the forums, and the one that I'd like to focus on is the wiki. The wiki gives another means to contribute content, and I've explained elsewhere how I see the wiki and the forum interacting. The reason I mention the wiki is that unlike most forum software, it has the facility to rollback unwanted edits.

But then you get into the issue who decides which edits are acceptable and which are not. Wikis tend to have people who act in the role of "editors" (that is "editors" in the sense used in the publishing world). There are similarities to the moderator role on forums, but possibly less visible to the public. Generally wikis have some statement that says "anything you write may be edited by others" which basically implies that there's no real concept of an "author" in the conventional sense and that all material is publicly owned. So if the original contributer decides to remove something they wrote then then another user can re-instate it; there's no problem in that as it's "within the rules", but cases do arise on Wikipedia were edits are repeatedly reverted by one person and re-instated by another. In these cases the editors have to make a call and frequently a ban of one or other party will result. This takes me on to the next item.

On the MOUL site, it is likely that the forum is all we will ever have to work with. Even if the users could compose some useful resource like an FAQ or User Guide that may be better placed on the main site, it's unlikely that Cyan would feel it worth expending the effort to move it from forum to website. We have a bit more flexibity here, as do most other fansites, allowing us to better protect user contributed assets (server wipeouts notwithstanding).

Vandalism
Possibly an emotive word, but fundamentally the example alluded to in the original post of this thread was a case of this. I'm not talking about bogus accounts created specifically to vandalise a site - the response in those cases ought to be pretty clear - but where an established user does something disagreeable. That there may be mitigating circumstances that warrant "cutting some slack" does not change the fact this is effectively what happened, so in that I agree with what Nalates said earlier. But the question then posed by Nalates is what do you do about it - to challenge the negative behaviour, discourage it in future? Well, first you need to ask if a "rule" has actually been broken. Now, it may be an oversight, but reading the MOUL forum rules, I don't actually see anything that says that a poster cannot substantially revise a post. Our discussions on Post Revisions address this sub-topic, but we generally seem to agree that altering posts in way that deliberately invalidates the thread is not something we want to see.

But we come back to the point that JWPlatt raised, about the legitimacy of a mod or admin re-instating edited material against the original author's will. We get down to the question of who actually "owns" the post - the poster or the forum entity? If forum rules or the TOS make a statement on that policy, then it can clear up a lot of the potential dilemma over whether or not a mod or admin can re-instate something, assuming that it is possible in the first place. However, even without such a policy there is generally nothing to stop another user re-creating the lost material in a new thread.

As to the action to take against the user who makes such negative revisions: That becomes difficult, and requires some knowledge of circumstances, but may also be influenced by the membership size of the forum involved. First you have to assume that there's rule you can show has been broken, and that there is an associated sanction, otherwise it becomes difficult to do anything.

For a very large forum, like MOUL, it is not possible for the mods to know every user's "typical" behaviour to spot the out-of-character incidences, which may indicate either a third party using someones account, or emotional disturbance, etc., but at the same time there will be well known posters. The temptation is to be a little more forgiving when you know that an action is the result of some outside influence, and is probably a one-off. It's the "humanitarian" reaction but that then means that the moderators may be seen not be even-handed. Let's say the sanction was a time-limited ban: Don't apply the ban and you'll get complaints from some users that "Xyz did a heinous thing and should have been banned immediately"; apply the ban and you'll get "I can't beleive you banned Xyz for this, he's been a good friend to many of us". No-one is 100% right or 100% wrong and the question is infinitely debatable. It can get into personal/private issues and is partly the reason why most forums do not allow open debate of moderation/administration actions.

Hiding behind the mechanical application of rules is almost as dangerous as having no rules. Rules do help the moderators make decisions on what is appropriate, but in some cases judgement calls are necessary and a mod just needs to stand by his decision. In any case, applying sanctions is often beyond the moderators own remit and needs to be referred to an administrator, who will then act on the moderators recommendations after reviewing the case, so there's a form of safeguard there. On a small fansite forum it is likely that the moderator and the admin are one and the same so no such oversight will exist, and I think that is a very big problem (as an aside, that's why a lot of people have fallen out with certain fansites in the past).
"Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men."

Summary
Things a forum/site might need:
  • Policy statement on ownership of submitted material (and I note that we don't seem to have a written policy on copyright here yet :? )
  • A definition of "vandalism" (e.g. deliberate defacement or removal of posted material)
  • A policy (rule) for dealing with vandalism
Revision tracking/reversion might be a good thing too, but possibly beyond what is practical on most forums.
Last edited by Mac_Fife on Thu Mar 25, 2010 3:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed some typos

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Nalates » Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:46 pm

Over at GoMa there is the thread “Guild of Maintainers Key Resource List on MOUL Guilds forum” which is similar to this one and has some good points.

Marten and Mac_Fife in different forums both make the similar points about judging people by just the information in the forum. I agree with them. I think it is a really bad idea and habit to acquire. All the religions I know of counsel against it as do the secular philosophers I’ve read.

While I agree with their thinking I believe a problem comes in when we combine the behavior with personality… without that clarity rational response is paralyzed and our discussions become fuzzy.

Consider. The behavior is in the forum. Something disagreeable or controversial was written or done and does or does not break a rule or community standard. How we characterize it is in our heads. How we perceive the person or people involved and what we decide about them is just what we do. Failing to separate the behavior from the person makes it difficult for people to respond and take corrective action. Too many feel like we are judging the PERSON rather than the act/behavior. Everyone then gets involved in ‘personalities’ and that leads to drama because we are speculating and becoming emotional over issues for which we have little or no real information. Everyone is projecting their own issues. Plus we all perceive personality issues differently because of our own.

We handle similar types of issues in our criminal systems of law, so I think they make a good example of the concept. The most extreme scenario is murder. It is a negative act and one we do not tolerate in society. It does not matter who commits the murder or why in deciding if it is wrong and a bad act and whether or not it will be punished. The nature and state of the one perpetrating the act, whether a physical or mental disability, their past history, or their intent and motivation, does not matter. It is only when we come to deciding the punishment that ‘why’, motivation, and intent are considered. That leads to more or less severe charges and consequences.

I believe failing to have and/or understand the concept of behavior and person being separate things leads to much of the confusion and disagreement about the nature of what someone has done and what to do next. Judging the person instead of the act creates drama. Not understanding the concept leads people to apply comments about the behavior/act as being about the individual, again leading to drama. Judging acts and behaviors is an integral part of a community’s survival.

I think failing to take corrective action leads to more of the same bad behaviors being exhibited in a forum or wherever. Not providing feedback on behavior to one exhibiting it means they can’t or likely won’t become aware and take corrective action. So, I see failing to respond as a disservice to them also.

Forum moderators can mitigate many of these problems. Forum members can eliminate, create, or aggravate the problems. I hope we come up with good guides for members. So, far it seems to be don’t judge people. I’m concerned that such a rule does not short-circuit rule enforcement.

Mac_Fife and the GoMa thread bring up a couple of new points in my thinking.

The duplication of information… I have been an aggregator; believing have a single, complete reference is efficient and handy. A worthy seeming goal… in my mind. Andy, I think, brought up the matter of what happens if a forum or web site owner closes the whole show? :shock: Oops! I did not think of that. Suddenly I’m not so much for total aggregation of all information to a single reference. Dispersion is probably a wiser choice.

Mac_Fife comments on the need for a clear ToS and ownership of content. I agree. I think JWP’s point of allowing members to handle any restoration of data is a wiser choice for the forum and relieves moderators of a possibly controversial duty.

I agree with Mac_Fife again on moderators needing a clear rule violation before taking action. JWP’s base rule of, “Do no damage” covers it, but not explicitly. Having detailed rules is often overkill and covering all scenarios is improbable. I’m not advocating a “when a poster does…” type rule set. I believe moderators need room for discretionary action. A vandalism rule is probably a good idea.

I had not really thought of a user account being high jacked but the recent scams on Facebook (posing as someone and emailing all the friends asking for money – help I’m stranded in Europe on vacation, been robbed, kids are starving, send money) show there are ways to scam just about anything. I suppose making new moderators aware of the problem is how we would handle that.

Mac_Fife also points out the problem of treating well known members differently. I agree it can be a problem. However, I would phrase that differently. A moderator has more information about a well known member. I think that information should be used to guide decisions and mitigate sanctions. If the problem is from a member the moderator could be considered to have a conflict of interest with or for and especially if the member is a friend, the moderator should probably pass along a recommendation or additional information to another moderator and excuse their self from the process. Definitely use the information available. That course of action has problems. But, many of our other posts and this one are about dealing with issues where we have a lack of information. The point on blind obedience to rules is well made and something I wholeheartedly agree. Because of that OU’s rule of No Damage is the rule and most of the rest is guidelines.

The information about the person is likely beyond what one gets from the forum. It can be helpful. But it is about the person and the why. It can help decide if something was careless or intentional, insensitive or malicious, or whatever if the post was a rule violation it is a violation. Some response is needed.

I agree moderator actions and details of a reprimand or post removal are not open for discussion… mostly. When a rules is pointed to, that is the end of it. After that take issue with the rule. Any other criticism of a moderator needs to go to PM.

A problem I have may not be real but I can’t know. When I have a problem with a moderator how do I handle it? I can discuss the issue directly with the moderator and usually do. But, where do I turn after that when I think the mod is part of the problem? I think we covered that elsewhere. Here my thought is to make the moderator complaint process more explicit and perhaps provide a link or name to handle those issues.
Last edited by JWPlatt on Thu Mar 25, 2010 7:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Mod: Corrected "harm" to "damage" in reference to the OpenURU.org rule.
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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Mac_Fife » Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:49 pm

Nalates wrote:I agree with Mac_Fife again on moderators needing a clear rule violation before taking action. JWP’s base rule of, “Do no damage” covers it, but not explicitly. Having detailed rules is often overkill and covering all scenarios is improbable. I’m not advocating a “when a poster does…” type rule set. I believe moderators need room for discretionary action. A vandalism rule is probably a good idea.
I think the key words here are "guided decision". Neither blind obedience to rules, nor completely subjective judgement. What most observers won't see in a moderation action is that there will often be a private PM exchange between the mod and the user. A thread may be locked or parked somewhere out of sight while that happens, but what happens in the PM will likely have some bearing on the action taken. It will be private matter but the PMs could be used if the matter then goes to arbitration by the administrators.
Nalates wrote:A problem I have may not be real but I can’t know. When I have a problem with a moderator how do I handle it? I can discuss the issue directly with the moderator and usually do. But, where do I turn after that when I think the mod is part of the problem? I think we covered that elsewhere. Here my thought is to make the moderator complaint process more explicit and perhaps provide a link or name to handle those issues.
It will depend on the site. On the MOUL forums, Rule 1 gives you the option of escalating to the site admins; that works because the mods are user volunteers while that admins are Cyan employees. Many smaller fansites sites have a moderator base that equates to the administration team, so you've no practical recourse, other than to just walk away.

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Nalates » Thu Mar 25, 2010 10:58 pm

I see the difference in having once removed admins and front line mods also being the admins. We can't always have the prior. I'll have to go back and look at MOUL's FAQ.

In the later case, being able to get a response from another mod could help. Even if it is just a quick, "we reviewed it as a group and it stands." If one is having a problem, trust can be in question. So, another's response could relieve that. Also, as it becomes more known that review and action is a team effort, many of us will feel better. And our purpose here is not just in regard to to MOUL. Not a complete cure all, but I think it could help.

I think if I expected a problem or felt I might be biased I would CC other mods and ask opinions. Including that info while dealing with the problem member might also reduce problems.
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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Mar 26, 2010 10:55 am

Nalates wrote:In the later case, being able to get a response from another mod could help. Even if it is just a quick, "we reviewed it as a group and it stands."
Yes, that's probably a good idea, especially if the follow up comes from a mod other than the one who originally dealt with the issue.

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Dot » Fri Mar 26, 2010 11:30 am

Mac_Fife wrote:
Nalates wrote:In the later case, being able to get a response from another mod could help. Even if it is just a quick, "we reviewed it as a group and it stands."
Yes, that's probably a good idea, especially if the follow up comes from a mod other than the one who originally dealt with the issue.
Would this be a way forward in the situation being discussed in the 'Ending the nonsense' thread? For it would make explicit that moderation IS a team effort, and that there is back-up and discussion going on behind the scenes.

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by mszv » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:02 pm

Here's what I think you should do.

The post where he says he's removing his stuff -- leave those posts. Last I checked, it's not violating the mod rules over at Mystonline if someone is unhappy and wants to say they are unhappy. I also think that if this person wants their particular lists removed, remove it.

I suggest someone neutral talk to him and find out what's going on and if there is something that you can do to remedy the situation (maybe Mac or someone did it). People can be emotional. They aren't robots. Sometimes people who do great, helpful things on a forum can be emotional, even touchy. It's not bad, it's just how people are.

If you can't resolve it, and the list of good stuff is going -- it needs to be created under someone else's id. That info is public. If it was me, I'd do a post on how great the list was, mention the person by forum name, say how wonderful it was, say that he's decided not to continue it, but saying it's such a great idea, you want to continue it -- you can even say, in honor of him, it's too great to let it die. Then, make your own list, using the info from his lists, and from other lists.

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Dot » Fri Mar 26, 2010 5:58 pm

Something like that is happening behind the scenes, mszv. :)

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Re: Important Threads/Info & Poor Behavior

Post by Mac_Fife » Fri Mar 26, 2010 6:09 pm

Dot wrote:Something like that is happening behind the scenes, mszv. :)
In fact, almost exactly like that :) FWIW, I did indeed contact the OP and a third party close to the OP, so I was able to get some insight into the matter, beyond what was on the forums, and that was significant.

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